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The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can increase the effectiveness of recycling and reforestation to help alleviate climate change

Re-use and reintroduction are key strategies that can assist with helping to negate the negative effects of climate change. Recycling and reforestation are two important ways in which the warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere can be lessened.

Recycling efforts benefit from new 4IR Tech for tracking and tracing

Two of the key challenges in economic recycling is the cost and effort required to physically collect waste and then to sort it into categories of materials such as plastics, metal, paper and others. Efficient recycling requires sorted materials for processing. In addition, without appropriate tracking, the process is opaque, difficult to measure and hard to report on. Now 4IR Tech such as blockchain and innovative trackability can help.

In 2021 BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, introduced a pilot project in Canada that uses advanced 4IR Tech in an innovative way to “improve circular economy and traceability of recycled plastics”. The company’s new reciChain technology assists with sorting, traceability and transparency in the process.

According to the European Parliament, the circular economy is “a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.”

In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. Implementing this model provides the most appropriate way to alleviate climate change via economical recycling.

BASF’s reciChain platform assists with moving from a linear economy to a circular economy by combining the power of blockchain with a digital badge and loop count technology that enables the secure sharing of data among market participants, while improving the sorting, tracing and monitoring of plastics throughout the value chain. “The result is a more competitive circular supply chain rather than a linear one, extending the lifecycle of plastics. 

“Additionally, due to the increased transparency reciChain provides, the platform can offer better assurance to brand owners of the validity of the certificates they purchase from recyclers and converters.”

This example shows that one of the solutions for effective and efficient recycling of plastics, for instance, is to use technology to increase the value of recycling for all participants in the economy. When it pays to recycle, through efficiencies and transparency enhanced by 4IR Tech, it becomes an integral part of economic activity as explained by the circular model. 

Reforestation: There’s a drone for that

Drones, or technically UASs (unmanned aircraft systems), also sometimes called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent a fast-growing and impactful manifestation of 4IR Tech in the physical world, especially agriculture. All the elements that culminate in making these remote-controlled aerial vehicles possible have their origin in some sort of new technology, from design and manufacturing to control and functionality.

Now one of the many uses of drones is their ability to assist in reforestation. DroneSeed is an American company in Seattle, Washington that specialises in high-tech drone reforestation technology capable of planting seeds six times faster than a human. Another drone reforestation company is the Canadian firm Flash Forest that specialises in drone reforestation for the recovery of forests damaged by wildfires.

Although drone seeding can deliver huge seed payloads quickly, successful planting from the sky also depends heavily on the seeds themselves, as a variety of factors can impact the actual initial germination rate from the dropped pods. Seeds must be pre-prepared for effectiveness once drone-planted. That’s why DroneSeed bought the seed company Silvaseed to assist with seed effectiveness and to increase seed availability for use by large aerial planting projects.

According to the article “Drones Can Reforest the Planet Faster Than Humans Can”, published by Forbes on 30 September 2020, “we haven’t been very successful in reforestation using humans alone, it’s just too slow”.

But drones can help. “Having the hard labour done by a drone accelerates the pace of reforestation by at least 10 times over having humans alone do the work. And two humans could potentially direct 10 of these drones, so the pace can be geometrically accelerated.”

This means the most effective answer to rapid reforestation is likely to be re-seeding from the sky, powered by 4IR Tech.

In South Africa, drones are also increasingly playing a crucial role in efficient agriculture and farming in general. Currently specialising in drone-based crop spraying, KwaZulu-Natal-based PACSys is a farmer-owned organisation established in 2016 to research, develop and distribute precision agricultural technologies, tailored to increase farming efficiencies and ultimately profits at all levels.

As these examples show, by increasingly using new technologies in recycling and reforestation efforts, they enter the mainstream through growing efficiencies to become widely used throughout industries, rather than remaining on the fringe. In turn, these efforts can lead to a real positive impact on alleviating climate change, effectively and economically.

Visit uj.ac.za/4ir and register to join the next UJ Cloudebate™ on 13 July at 18:00 which tackles this important topic. DM


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